Titles registry won’t be sold without ‘due diligence,’ PCs say

By Darcy Henton, Calgary Herald May 28, 2013 5:51 AM

Albertans shouldn’t get too excited about the possible sale of the province’s land titles registry because other provinces have done it successfully, says Premier Alison Redford.

While the Progressive Conservative government is contemplating privatizing the registry, it won’t proceed unless it is confident the security of the system will be maintained, the premier told party members on the weekend.

“Of course, the integrity of the system is fundamental, but it would be wrong for people … to suggest that simply because the system is operating outside of conventional government systems, there is any impact on land titles in terms of tenure and security of title,” Redford said.

“If anything is done here, it will only be after full consultation and due diligence, but there have been successful models that have been used.”

Ontario, B.C. and Manitoba have off-loaded their registries and Saskatchewan is also moving in that direction.

But some critics worry the move will result in fee hikes and put property ownership titles at risk. Others contend that if the system makes money, there is no reason to sell it.

Manitoba’s contract with a private company called Teranet paid the government $75 million upfront, plus another $11 million annually.

Chestermere-Rocky View PC delegate Tim Anderson, a real estate agent who raised the question about the sale of the registry at the Tory party’s policy conference, said Monday he was concerned about the effects of the move.

After meeting with Service Alberta Minister Manmeet Bhullar at the conference, Anderson said he felt better about the plan.

“I was reassured that if they privatize, the government oversight would be there and the fees would stay the same,” he said.

But both the Law Society of Alberta and the NDP oppose privatization of the registry.

“We think it is in the public interest that the land titles system be preserved,” said Law Society past president Steve Raby.

He said property rights are the cornerstone of democracy and selling the registry is mortgaging the future. If the province wants to offload the registry, it should hand it off to an independent not-for-profit authority rather than a corporation, he said.

NDP critic Deron Bilous said privatizing the registry would allow private companies to benefit from a system paid for by taxpayers.

“I honestly don’t see the logic behind outsourcing this when it can be done in-house … where the government brings in a modest profit and passes savings on to consumers.”

He said privatizing gives the purchaser of the registry a monopoly.

“That is absurd,” Bilous said. “Land titles is an essential service.”

Alberta Land Surveyors Association executive director Brian Munday said the association has concerns around fee rates, liability and maintenance of the system.

“Certainly we want to know what safeguards will be in place to make sure fees remain reasonable,” he said.

“If something does go wrong, is it the government or a private company that is responsible for it? What mechanisms will be put in place to ensure that adequate money is in fact spent on maintaining and upgrading the system into the future?”

The Redford government is reviewing the registry along with about 800 programs and services as part of its results-based budgeting process. No decision is expected until next year.

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